Filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT) under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) is not as hard as you may think. Filing a complaint with DOT when an airline discriminates against you as a person with a disability has the potential, over time, to make air travel more accessible to and inclusive of all of us with disabilities.
While DOT’s File a Consumer Complaint page encourages us to file complaints with the airline giving us problems, discrimination complaints are not exclusive. That means we have the right to file with DOT whether or not we file with the airline discriminating against us. Unless your issue is time sensitive, I strongly encourage you to file with DOT. Filing with DOT has the following advantages:
- Your complaint will be forwarded to the airline you complained about forcing a response.
- DOT issues monthly reports about the consumer complaints it gets helping us understand what is happening in different sectors of the transportation industry, including the airline industry.
- DOT uses complaints to shape future rules changes and to create new rules.
The Complaint Process
When you file a complaint based on discrimination (including disability discrimination) it follows these steps:
- A Transportation Industry Analyst will forward your complaint to the airline, and the airline will be required to respond to you and the DOT.
- Once the airline’s response is received, a DOT analyst will review your complaint and the airline’s response to determine if a violation occurred. After the analyst reviews your case, it will be given to an attorney for review. Once your case is reviewed by an attorney, an analysis with our findings will be mailed to you.
DOT warns that given the number and complexity of complaints it could take some time for you to get a response. Since the time it takes them to respond could be months, do not use the DOT complaint process if you need even a reasonably prompt resolution of your issue.
Filing a Complaint
To file a complaint online you must use DOT’s Air Travel Complaint and Comment form. The form asks for the following:
- Who you are (in most cases passenger)
- Either home phone or email address is required
- Whether or not you want a copy of the complaint emailed to you (you should)
- Name of the airline
- Flight date
- Flight itinerary
- Destination city or flight number
- A comment field (3,000 character limit) where you can describe the issue
- A place where you can attach supporting documentation
Completing the Form
When filing, I would recommend taking advantage of the ability to attach supporting documentation. Since how much you say and how you say it matters, I strongly believe the best plan of attack is to write down what you want to say in the format that is most comfortable for you. If you prefer writing in Word, do it. If you use Pages on the Mac, do it. Write and edit your complaint in a way that is most accessible to you and attach it to your complaint form.
In the comment field of your complaint form, use important words to get the attention of the DOT and airline employees who read your complaint. If your complaint is about discrimination based on your being accompanied by a service animal, say that. If your complaint is that an airline did not let you pre board, say that. If an airline did not help you make a connecting flight, put that in the comment field.
If you can, cite to the sections of the Code of Federal Regulations you believe the airline violated in the file you attach to your complaint.
To learn which sections of the Code of Federal Regulations apply to your situation and to refresh your memory as to your rights under the ACA, visit the post About the Air Carrier Access Act. The post has the information you need in HTML with links to the relevant sections of the Code of Federal Regulations. It also has an audio player you can use to listen to the podcast episode where I described the airlines responsibilities and our rights under the ACA.
Since DOT plans on mailing you a copy of its findings, I would recommend you letting them know either in the comment field or the attached document that you will need their findings in an accessible format; for example, I would tell them I am blind and that I require their findings emailed to me as either an accessible PDF or an Accessible Word document.